Chipps catches up with Scot Nicol, the man behind Ibis Bicycles.
Ifi rst met Scot ‘Chuck Ibis’ Nicol in about 1992 on a visit to California. Back then, Ritchey, Salsa, Bontrager, Ibis, Rock Lobster and many other ‘names’ all had workshops making TIG welded steel bikes within an hour’s drive of San Francisco. It was a hotbed of bike designing and manufacture. Ibis already had a reputation for building beautiful, fi nely crafted steel (and later titanium) bikes. They were less ‘racey’ than Ritcheys, less ‘dry-engineering’ than Bontrager bikes, and less zany than Salsa. They turned out some lovely frames, many of which are highly sought after today. It wasn’t just the sleek design that appealed, but the little touches like the three or four colour fade paint (with matching, painted Silca pump), or the ‘Hand Job’ cable holder. They went on to do a great deal of innovation in progressing mountain bikes: one of the fi rst small builders to master titanium frames and stems, an early adopter of full suspension, steel-and-carbon bikes... And yet their workshop was a place of loud music and bunk-off bike rides in the idyllic Californian weather. On sunny days, the welders moved their jigs out of the doors and on to the back porch of the shop so that they could weld and tan simultaneously. And back in 1993, when I was going to take a holiday to California, Chuck said to me “You can’t come this close and not go to Moab. I insist that you go!” And after a four-hour internal fl ight and a fi ve-hour drive, he was right and I’ve been in love with the place ever since. But though many people will have heard of Ibis, very few would be able to pick out (or even name) Scot Nicol as the boss of one of those seminal mountain bike companies. So without further ado, let’s catch up with Mr Ibis. . .
www.singletrackworld.com As for putting my name on the bikes, I wish I had. Then I could have sold to Trek. Look at Klein, LeMond, Fisher, and that HUGE sellout Keith Bontrager
Many readers will be vaguely aware of the Ibis name, some old-timers will be rabid fans already and others will have only just discovered you. Do you feel like a ‘70s band that’ve just been rediscovered by the college crowd? Yes, because people want us to keep playing the old standards. “Play Stairway to Heaven, man”, “Bring back the steel Mojo, man!”, “Give me a Hand Job, man!”
Can you give us a super-concise history of Ibis up to this point? Founded by moi in 1981, solo show building brazed steel mountain bikes for a couple years, employees by ‘83, TIG welding, tandems, titanium, trials, hand jobs, Hakkalugis, Mojos Szazbos, BowTis, SilkTis, Alibis. Sold to terrorists in 2000. Took a short nap from 2002-2005, although we were doing black ops in the background during nap time...
Not many people know that you were one of the early-on, corner drifting, plaid shirted Repack riders. You weren’t that bad either, were you? Depends on who you talk to. My parents thought I was bad. Especially my career and hairstyle choice (see attached). Sorta like Charlie Manson.
sellout Keith Bontrager. Do you know he has his own Lear jet and lives in a mansion? Anyway, they all used their own name and they all sold to Trek. Not me, I was smarter than that.
Oh yes, EVERYONE knows about Bontrager’s gold-plated and gusseted Lear Jet... However, I remember that you had a Cessna while you were still a framebuilder... Shit! I am so very busted. Yep, a Cessna 182, an old ‘straight tail’ one. It was practical, aiding in the slacker lifestyle. From here on the left coast of Amerika, it takes all day to fl y to Moab, or even longer to drive. In a relatively slow small plane, it’s only fi ve hours. Considerably faster than commercial. Throw some bikes in the back and away you go. I sold the plane a long time ago. If you’re a pilot and you want to keep living, you need to fl y all the time. With work I wasn’t able to do that. So I’m a quitter.
You say you started building frames yourself - did you have any idea what you were doing at the time with welding? Or wasn’t that the point? Did anyone else?
I had apprenticeships with both Joe Breeze and Charlie Cunningham before I started building. I got a bike from Joe, still have it. Breezer #13. Joe and Charlie handled things very differently. It was kind of like being educated at some new age hippie school like UC Santa Cruz (apologies to all you alums) part of the time and Oxford part of the time (not that I’m 1/4 smart enough to get into Oxford, I’m more UC Santa Cruz material). But the two approaches were very different. Joe showed me about how to do things the ‘traditional’ way, and Charlie always had to do things differently. Take a perfectly good part, Charlie would deconstruct it and put it back together in a better way. I brazed (not welded) all the frames for the fi rst few years. Then we added TIG welding to the mix, and I always hired someone really good and experienced to do that. And they were never certifi ed welders. The certifi ed guys were the worst. They came in pounding their chest about how if they had welded the Alaska pipeline, they could weld anything. Then you hand them a torch and some paper thin tubing and watch them fl ounder... then walk out the door (hopefully back to Alaska).
How did you get from there into mountain bikes? And why didn’t you put your name on the bikes like all the other bearded hippies? I actually started building bikes before I was racing them. As for putting my name on the bikes, I wish I had. Then I could have sold to Trek. Look at Klein, LeMond, Fisher, and that HUGE
The M ojo S L, yo ur ne xt un afford able b ike th at yo u hav e to h ave.